There is one particular driver in the upper echelons of motorsport whose appeal to his fans has always been lost on me.
He is undoubtedly one of the most exciting drivers of his generation on-track, but off it…
And yet, in a rather puzzling contradiction, his anti-charisma seems to work in his favour as he is undoubtedly the most popular driver in the sport and commands a huge – somewhat obsessive – following of fans.
Thankfully, this monosyllabic driver still has a few years of Formula 1 left in him and won’t be competing in the new Formula E electric racing series, because if he did, he would probably walk it thanks to the help of his supporters.
And no, that’s not because they would be allowed to push his stricken car across the finishing line after it runs out of juice, you cynical lot.
It is a lot simpler than that because, in an effort to engage with its followers, Formula E will allow fans the opportunity to vote for which driver they would like to be given an additional power boost during a race.
Dubbed ‘fanboost’, votes will be taken through Twitter and tallied at the mid-race interval – the cars are unable to run to full distance, remember – and whoever proves most popular will gain an extra 50bhp for 10 seconds to be used in the second half of the event.
So that’s the sporting element of the series out of the window then; it’s a gimmick equivalent to football supporters voting to bring on an extra player for a couple of minutes mid-match, and can you imagine the reaction that?
Formula E CEO Alejandro Agag says the purpose of this X-Factor approach to his series is to attract a younger audience, who he hopes will be encouraged to purchase an electric vehicle in the future.
“They see electric cars as something boring,” Agag told reporters at a conference in Monaco yesterday. “We need to show people that they can race, that they are cool and that they are the best option for daily life – that’s the mission for Formula E.”
“It’s a difficult mission, but we won’t do it by convincing you or me as we are probably too old, we need to focus on the kids.
“Those kids when they buy their first car, it should be an electric car.
“So this championship needs to focus on them and particularly on that young target audience, and we are going to do that by allowing fans to vote through Twitter to give an extra push-to-pass.”
Now I don’t know about you, but my first car was a clapped out Volkswagen Polo and I can’t imagine there are too many 17 year olds in the fortunate position to have £15,000 to spend on a Nissan Leaf and can also afford the £130 battery leasing costs per month.
Undoubtedly the costs involved in purchasing and running an electric car will come down in time, but until they reach a reasonable level they will never penetrate the mainstream vehicle market, least of all with first-time buyers, so I can’t help but think Agag is targeting the wrong demographic with this vote-to-pass feature.
Of course, nobody knows when they will become more affordable, but until then, Formula E will fly the flag for electric cars the world over thanks to its combination of city centre racing and big name drivers.
But allowing outside influences to potentially affect the outcome of a race is unnecessary and there is a possibility that, rather than attract followers, it will deter people from watching as they will find it difficult to take seriously.
Who wants to see a driver claiming a hollow victory after making a winning passing thanks to people frantically tweeting their adulation for them on Twitter?
That’s something I never want to see and I can’t imagine many others do either.
And what’s to stop someone manipulating the results via use of a Twitter spambot? How will the results be adjudicated? And will there be anything to stop insanely popular drivers from receiving an extra boost in every single race, like the aforementioned F1 driver would do if he was part of the line-up?
Formula E’s uniqueness should be enough to grab people’s attentions – across all age groups – it doesn’t require gimmicks and certainly doesn’t need popularity contests, just good, honest street racing that’s available to the masses.